For the furtherance of all human knowledge, I made a sacrifice and went to the mall so all you noble people who stayed home didn’t have to.
Controversy over stores opening on Thanksgiving? A bad economy encouraging extra competition between stores? The largest shopping center in the United States? It sounded like a perfect storm to see my fellow Americans at their best and get a good story out of it.
Yes, I kissed my lovely wife and kids goodnight and went to Mall of America on Thanksgiving evening, but – I promise – only as an observer. So for the benefit of future historians, for the furtherance of all knowledge in general, and to satisfy the curiosity of all the noble people who stayed home and refused to be lured to the mall with the chance to save $50 on that tablet they’ve always wanted, here’s what I saw.
I begin by noting with regret that I got there a bit late. It wasn’t entirely my fault, though: in my rush to arrive by 6pm for the opening of the first major store I asked Siri for help with directions. When I arrived at a sports stadium instead, I switched over to Google Maps. Google got me there no problem but the unexpected detour meant I didn’t arrive until 6:11pm.
With all the weight of history riding on my shoulders, I rushed straight to Best Buy, one of the only stores that opened at 6pm. Outside the store there was a cordoned off area where a sizable crowd had probably lined up before it opened, a number of security guards, and a security sniffing dog.
Inside, the stampeding and fighting had apparently already died down; indeed, there was little evidence it had ever taken place. What I came upon was a store that was packed but highly organized. Instead of mad scrambles for piles of sought after items, there were very civilized lines for different kinds of products. If you wanted a tablet, laptop, TV, or camera, you had to wait in a certain line and a Best Buy worker would give you a ticket for the product you wanted. When they ran out of tickets for a particular item, it meant they were out of that product and you didn’t have to wait in line.
Before I had figured out the system, I asked a young man in one of the lines what the line was for. He told me it was for cameras, but I was still confused. “For a certain kind of camera?” I asked. “Why? Why do you want to know?” came his brusk reply. Maybe he thought I was trying to go after his deal?
But the young man’s response was an anomaly. In the main, the atmosphere was relaxed and positive, like people were having a good time. And it wasn’t just teens and young people present: whole families were there, grandparents and babies in strollers included. It seemed that people had simply made coming to the mall part of their holiday festivities.
Two other major stores were opening at 7pm: Levi’s and Old Navy. Levi’s didn’t seem too exciting when I walked by (it must be harder to get worked up over slightly discounted jeans), but I noticed people were getting wristbands before heading into Old Navy. A worker explained that participating Old Navy stores around the country were letting the first 500 people at each store enter for a chance to win $1 million. All you had to do was a get a wristband as you entered, walk to the back of the store, and trade your wristband for a card with instructions of how to enter online. There was basically no line by the time I had arrived, and I figured it could be helpful to get an “immersive experience” for history’s sake, so I condescended and got a wristband.
I walked through the brightly lit store with old-time Christmas carol remixes playing in the background and found the workers in the back passing out the cards. I took off the wristband that had been put on my arm less than a minute earlier and got a card with a web address and a unique code to enter. That was it, all to just get me in the store. I circled around and made my way back out of the store on the other side of the room through the Men's section. I do admit that even with my greatly honed ability of detachment for the purpose of study, the signs saying everything in the store was 50% off did make me pause and look closer at some of the clothes, but just for a few seconds until I moved on and left the store.
A huge slew of stores were set to open at 8pm, a couple at 10pm, and then another long list of stores at 12 midnight. There were groups of girls and young women waiting in line for various clothing stores to open, but most people were just milling about, seemingly not waiting for anything in particular.
A few stores had just a handful of people waiting outside. I didn’t talk to any of these people, but I imagine it must have felt pretty silly to arrive early and wait in line for a store by yourself, or with just a few other people. Sadder, though, was that some stores had ropes to manage lines but no one waiting in line. I walked past several stores with the workers just standing there with no customers to help. So much for the workers leaving their families early on Thanksgiving.
A big exception to the norm was the very long line for the opening of the Microsoft Store situated right across the way from the Apple Store (which wasn’t set to open until a-cool-and-confident-6am on Black Friday). The line snaked around the corner, past a bustling Caribou Coffee (people stocking up on caffeine for the late night?), and around the nearby LEGO store. When the time came for the Microsoft Store to open, I was braced to finally witness a good ‘ole traditional Black Friday stampede…. but I was disappointed. A worker slid the glass door open slightly and started letting in small groups of people, who excitedly but calmly made their way inside.
So where were the crazy elbow-throwing mobs desperately fighting for this season's must-have deal? It was only 8:15pm when I realized I had seen enough. The mall was starting to fill up a bit more, but I had seen the mall much fuller before. Except for the fact that it was Thanksgiving evening, everything seemed very boring and normal, even fun.
So that’s what I saw. And for anyone who was wondering: don’t worry, I didn’t buy anything, so I’m not a part of the problem.